Bristol Uni student reached out to seminar tutor for help, then he asked her out for drinks

‘When everyone important in my life said it was not normal, including my therapist, I thought this is really not okay’

Intimate relationships between staff and students have been under recent scrutiny by the Office for Students, the university watchdog for England. The regulator wants all relationships between staff and students to be documented and, if not, the member of staff should be disciplined or fired.

Since 2019, the University of Bristol has required all staff members to report any involvement with a student to their Head of School as per the sexual misconduct and relationships policy. Despite this, relationships between staff members and students at university prevail without being reported. The Bristol Tab has spoken to one student who wishes to remain anonymous about how her seminar tutor took their relationship outside the classroom.

How was it initiated?

“I was actively struggling with addiction during this time period”, the student told The Bristol Tab. She explained: “I wanted to talk to my tutor afterwards and explain that if I seemed absent during seminars … it is because I have been having a problem with drugs.”

She then told us he “asked if I wanted to get a coffee to discuss things further”.

“Initially I didn’t think too much of [this because] I thought he was being nice talking to me about this problem I was having and trying to be helpful and listening to me.”

However, their interaction later escalated with the student being asked if she wanted to have lunch and a drink, an offer which she perceived as a “bit unusual” given “I had just expressed how vulnerable I was” and this was “a much older seminar tutor.”

The student agreed to meet her seminar tutor for drinks, citing she “[finds] it hard to say no to people in positions of power,” especially as she felt if the invitation was declined, she could be made to feel “awkward or uncomfortable in my seminars”.

How did it make you feel?

“I didn’t feel in danger at the time” but “he made a few comments about my looks … saying that I was pretty” which made it “weird and uncomfortable”.

The student said she “found the alcohol at lunch strange given I disclosed my struggle with addiction”.

She also said he insisted on paying which made her feel “really young,” adding, “when everyone important in my life said it was not normal, including my therapist, I thought this is really not okay.”

A spokesperson for The University of Bristol told The Bristol Tab: “Providing our staff and students with a safe environment in which to work and study is extremely important.

“If students or staff members have concerns about any form of inappropriate behaviour resulting from a staff/student relationship they should reach out so we can investigate, provide support and take action if necessary.”

Are you concerned about the future?

“Going forward I am a bit scared and uncomfortable only because I don’t have any power in the situation,” she told The Bristol Tab.

“The fact that I am anxious about publishing this shows that there is something for me to lose in the situation, there is a level of control and power that he has over me.

“I am worried that speaking out about it or even how I act with him in the future will impact my grades which really shouldn’t be the case.”

When asked if the student had considered reporting this alleged behaviour, they said: “At the time I thought it was just well intended but upon reflection … I felt it was weirder than I initially thought but nothing really happened that directly crossed any boundaries that I could report, especially because I know he’s already a harsh marker … so why put myself in a position to also get bad grades in the future.”

A spokesperson for The University of Bristol said: “We view raising issues and concerns positively as they help us learn how to do things better so it’s really important people talk to us. No one will be treated differently in any part of their university life if they do so.”

If you, or someone you know, have experienced unwanted actions or behaviour or been treated unfairly, find out how to report it and get support.

Here is the university’s page explaining how to submit a complaint or report unacceptable behaviour. 

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